THE voice of a BBC-style presenter boomed out of the speaker with her clipped vowels and perfect diction. This was Gisburn Road School in the 1960s and an audiotape and almost a hundred colour slides had been prepared to possibly accompany a television or radio programme. Writes historian Alan Roberts.




THE opening slide read ‘Living and Learning in an Infants School’. Something special must have happened for Barnoldswick to receive such attention.

Indeed, it was special because of the confidence and dedication of the headteacher and staff. The school was not overendowed with riches. Its most precious assets were the children and the ideas they came up with. The raw materials for creative play were simple: clay, paint, bricks, sand, water and household materials that could be repurposed.

The hall surrounded by the other classrooms was the focal point for many of the activities; commercially produced toys and equipment were unnecessary here. With Yorkshire thrift the school relied on its own initiative and ingenuity. It did however invest in good-quality reading materials for all levels of learning.

The reel-to-reel tape recorder was extremely useful. A six-year-old plays a haunting melody: it sounds like a Scottish lament, but from an island in the East Indies. Sheena sings her own composition ‘Little Birdy’ unaccompanied and then plays the same tune solo on the xylophone.

We hear the children talking to their teachers with some very high-level and precise language: one child tells how his mother’s dorsal vertebrae started to hurt when she was doing the spring cleaning. His brother had brought a ‘book of knowledge’ home from the library which showed a human skeleton. That’s how they found out what had caused his mother’s pain. The child had written about it in his school diary.

Other children talk about their free time. The teacher asks about a blackbird’s nest. ‘Yes, I know where there is one. It’s in [the] bullocks’ field and it’s in some branches. It has a lot of spine and I’ve seen a crow’s nest.’ The children enjoy painting. It is another way of expressing themselves. Sometimes it’s patterns, sometimes they make book covers, sometimes the pictures are captioned, and sometimes they write and illustrate their own books.

One child wrote, ‘I would like to be a nurse. I want to nurse babies and Anna is going to be a nurse too. We are both going to nurse babies and we will have to change their nappies.’ The teachers read aloud to the children, so the children associate books with the enjoyment of a good story. Each classroom has its library. There are picture books, books where the text describes a picture on the opposite page through to more advanced story and reference books. Stories might use only a limited vocabulary, but can still be interesting and fun to read. One began ‘There was a little Indian who wished he had a horse, but he did not have a horse. He had to walk, walk, walk’.

Steven has read thirty-eight books including ‘A Rabbit for a Shilling’ and ‘The Three Pirates’. Alan enjoys making model planes and reads aloud form his Observers Spotters’ Guide ‘…how do you tell it from the Boeing 707? Both have jet pods suspended under wings, but DC-8 has more finely tapered wings and tail, and on the centre-wing rear edge it has a straight section where the 707 looks curved.’ The children learn about how animals grow. ‘This is Poppet and she is a Yorkshire terrier and she is six months old.’ The children have made a book about what her paws are like, and about her ears, eyes and how she smells. They talk about her weight ‘I think she is fourteen pounds.’ Should that not be four pounds? ‘I don’t think she is [fourteen]. I would not be able to lift her up if she was.’ The children record the rate of her growth, height and weight in graph form. The boys measure the height of a tower they have made while the girls make a ground plan of a house.

The slides show country dancing and physical education in the hall using the big apparatus like the slide and the climbing frame.

The children’s day was not split into subjects like in today’s schools. What the children learnt and how it was taught was decided on a much more local level. This was before the days of the national curriculum and standardised assessments. The children had certainly received a good grounding in the three ‘R’s; reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.

And their history lessons? We know they learnt about Guy Fawkes, but the children also delivered their own history lesson to us, the people of the not-too-distant future.

The tape finishes with; ‘Is this mathematics, is it science is it art or simply experience of living and learning made possible in a school where adults provide good opportunities for children?’ The tape and slides will feature at the next meeting of Barnoldswick History Society to be held in the OAP Centre in Frank Street on 25 January 2024.

And we finish with a photograph of a nativity play. Happy Christmas everyone!